Post updated June 2018
Have you ever slowly pulled out your sunscreen at a pool playdate, not sure if you chose the “right” sunscreen brand for your kids, compared to the other moms? I feel like we have all secretly done this one time or another. There are endless sunscreen options available today and if you walk through stores this time of year, the most popular sunscreen brands are on display at the front of the aisles. However, many of these brands are filled with really harmful ingredients that you probably don’t want to be lathering all over your body! Unless you make your own, it’s hard to find a 100% safe sunscreen, but there are safer and affordable sunscreen options. But where do you start? How do you know which ones they are? Keep reading below!
The EWG Annual Sunscreen Report
Every year, the Environmental Working Group puts out a Annual Guide to Sunscreen report. This report is extremely helpful when deciding on the right sunscreen choice. The results show that while there have been improvements in recent years, a majority of sunscreens in the U.S. still contain very harmful and/or ineffective ingredients. In addition, about half of the sunscreens sold in the U.S. would not be allowed on the market in Europe. (Yikes!)
Of the 1,400+ sunscreens tested by the EWG, only 5% met their safety standards and over 40% were listed as potentially contributing to skin cancer.
Top Harmful Ingredients in Sunscreen
Oxybenzone – This ingredient is very common in U.S. sunscreens. According to lab tests, oxybenzone penetrates the skin at rates of 1 to 9 percent. This is concerning because oxybenzone acts like an estrogen in the body and is linked to abnormal sperm function in men and endometriosis in studies of women (1). Oxybenzone also acts as a skin allergen in a significant number of people.
Methylisothiazolinone – The American Contact Dermatitis Society named this ingredient as its “allergen of the year.”
Retinyl Palmitate/Vitamin A – Although Vitamin A might be good for your body, it’s not so great to lather on your skin. In fact, a Vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, that is often used in sunscreens, has been shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21% (2). Other ingredients containing Vitamin A that you should avoid are: Retinol, Retinyl Linoleate, and Retinyl Acetate.
Choose Mineral Sunscreens over Chemical Sunscreens
Mineral sunscreens typically include ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which create a physical barrier to protect the skin from the sun (3). Mineral sunscreen’s are usually considered a safer option compared to chemical sunscreen’s. With that said, you still need to use caution when choosing a mineral sunscreen as some of these sunscreens still may contain the harmful ingredients listed above.
What’s Wrong with SPF Values Greater Than 50?
Many studies have found that people are misled by the claims of high-SPF sunscreen bottles. In theory, a SPF of 100 would mean someone who would normally redden after 30 minutes in the mid-day sun could stay out for 50 hours (4). This just isn’t the case. To get a full overview of why SPF values greater than 50 are highly misleading, check out this post by EWG.
Why Spray Sunscreens Shouldn’t Be Your Go-To Choice
Spray sunscreens have become increasingly popular because they are quick and easy to apply. However, Consumer Reports has warned that spray sunscreens should not be used on children especially, due to the risk of inhaling the chemicals used in the sunscreen. In addition, it is very difficult to apply in a thickness that will provide the right amount of protection. Even the FDA has raised concerns about spray sunscreens, however they have not yet banned them (5).
The Safest Option: Cover Up
While sunscreen protects against sunburns, there has been no evidence proving that sunscreen protects against skin cancer and other skin damaging conditions. While there are safer sunscreen options, there are risk factors associated with all sunscreens. If you have a family history of skin cancer or other skin conditions, your safest bet is to cover up! Wear a hat and longer sleeves. It’s important that you take the necessary steps to ensure your skin is accurately protected.
Safer and Affordable Sunscreen Options
All of the sunscreens listed below are from the EWG’s 2018 best sunscreens report. The EWG analyzed the ingredients and labeling claims of over 1,400 sunscreens and narrowed down the best sunscreens based on these findings.
From this EWG report I then:
- …took all of the sunscreen’s from EWG’s list that were rated with the lowest scores (best options)
- …then researched the most affordable sunscreens from this list ($20 or less)
- …then chose the sunscreens with the best reviews
Safer and Affordable Sunscreen, Kid-Friendly
- Adorable Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF +30
- All Good Kid’s Sunscreen, SPF +30
- Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Sunscreen, SPF 50
- Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30
- Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, Baby SPF 50
- Blue Lizard Austrailian Sunscreen, Baby, SPF, 30+
- BurnOut KIDS Sunscreen, SPF 35
- Caribbean Sol Kids Kare, SPF 30
- Goddess Garden Organics KidSport, SPF 30
- Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby, SPF 50
- ThinkBaby Sunscreen SPF 50+
- ThinkSport Kids Sunscreen, SPF 50+
- TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30+
Safer and Affordable Sunscreen
- Bare Republic Mineral Face Lotion
- Block Island Organics Natural Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive, SPF 30+
- BurnOut Natural for Family Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Caribbean Sol Guard, SPF 30
- Goddess Garden Organics, SPF 30
- Juice Beauty Sport, SPF 30
- Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry Touch, SPF 50
- Rocket Pure Natural, SPF 30
- ThinkSport Sunscreen SPF 50+
- Waxhead Sun Defense Zinc Oxide Vitamin D Enhanced Sunscreen SPF 35
- Vanicream Sunscreen
For further information regarding sun safety for kids specifically, I recommend reading: Sun Safety for Kids: The Ultimate Guide for Parents, by Mom’s Loves Best. It is a great read!